MORGANTOWN — The challenge came from Mike Carey at halftime, as he watched West Virginia go through the motions for 20 minutes against Rider.
“Coach got on us,” West Virginia forward Naomi Davenport said. “He said this was the time for us to prove that we should have been in the NCAA [tournament]. That clicked in our heads.”
The Mountaineers (21-10) cruised to a 40-point win that set up today’s 3 p.m. game against Villanova, in the second round of the WNIT.
“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Davenport continued. “We should have been in the NCAAs. It didn’t happen, so we’re here and we’re going to play through it and try to win this whole thing.”
The Mountaineers will likely face a more difficult task with the 3-point shooting heavy Wildcats (19-12), an old foe from WVU’s days in the Big East.
Villanova hit 15 threes in its 86-81 overtime win against Old Dominion in the first round with freshman guard Emily Esposito — she averages 4.9 points per game — connecting on seven of them to finish with 27 points.
Villanova is sixth in the country, averaging 10.2 3-pointers made per game. The Wildcats’ inside game comes from 6-foot-1 junior Mary Gedaka, who leads the team in scoring at 14.7 points.
West Virginia is 11-18 all-time against Villanova, but have won the last four. The two schools have not played since meeting in the second round of the 2015 WNIT, which WVU won, 75-70, in overtime.
The winner advances to the round of 16 to face either Toledo or Northwestern.
WVU is playing in the WNIT for a second straight time and advanced to the semifinals of the tournament last season.
The difference being the Mountaineers believed they had done enough to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament this season, after winning 11 games and finishing fourth in Big 12 play.
“I was concerned coming out, because we had a lot of hope to get into the NCAAs and you don’t get it,” Carey said. “We came out flat [against Rider].”
What is similar is the Mountaineers are playing with a shortened roster again.
WVU began the season without prized recruit Rochelle Norris, who injured her knee in preseason practice.
Point guard Kysre Gondrezick left the team for personal reasons in December and only played five games and junior forward De’Janae Boykin, a transfer from Penn State, never got a waiver from the NCAA to become eligible this year.
Just prior to the Rider game, Carey indefinitely suspended senior forward Theresa Ekhelar for a violation of team rules.
West Virginia will enter today’s game with just eight scholarship players.
“Any teammate who is gone is a loss,” Davenport said. “It’s about character now. It shows who is going to step up. It’s an opportunity for Kari [Niblack] to start. It’s an opportunity for Jala [Jordan] to get in the game and get in the flow of things. We’re basically playing with four guards, so we should be out running. It’s about adjustments. We’re used to it.”